Hagerty Video: Prototype Porsche 959 Sport: The Fastest 959 EVER? | Henry Catchpole – The Driver’s Seat

Prototype Porsche 959 Sport: The Fastest 959 EVER? | Henry Catchpole - The Driver's Seat

Posted: 2023-04-12 15:00:42
Author: Hagerty
For Episode 15 of The Driver’s Seat, Henry Catchpole drives and reviews the amazing Porsche 959. But it gets better because this is the rare Sport version as opposed to the more usual Comfort variant. And then it gets even wilder because this is F9, one of the very first prototypes of the 959. Currently for sale with Girardo & Co it is a very special car indeed.

There is an argument that this could actually be the fastest 959 ever to leave the factory (as opposed to others, such as those from Canepa, that have subsequently been further tuned up from stock). The Sport variants of the 959 were already said to be some 100kg lighter than the standard, Comfort variant of the 959 and in addition, or rather subtraction, this lacks the Sport’s roll cage and various pieces of trim. Some have estimated that this might be as much as 200kg lighter than standard.

It certainly feels mighty quick when the second of the sequentially boosting turbos kicks in above 4000rpm. The Sport variants had an uprated engine, taking power from 450bhp up to 508bhp, so the official 0-60mph time dropped to just 3.6 sec, with 0-100mph taking an even more impressive 8.2 seconds. Despite being almost 40 years old, this car certainly felt good for that.

There is also something wonderful about the fact that the 959 was designed to compete in such diverse events as the Paris Dakar Rally and the 24h hours of Le Mans. That it was successful too is just incredible. Some of that vast breadth of ability is baked into the road car, with things like the gearbox, which only says it goes up to five, but is really a six-speed.

Of course the fiercest competition took place in the pages of magazines. The Porsche 959 and the Ferrari F40 were iconic (justified use of the word) sparring partners in the late 1980s. In Porsche’s corner was a huge amount of new technology and processing power. In Ferrari’s corner was lightweight and a bonkers power delivery. It felt like something of a digital v analogue battle. Given that this prototype Sport version of the 959 has unassisted steering and passive suspension, it was interesting to see whether it would feel closer to the analogue spirit of the F40.

Which would you rather have? F40 or this 959? Or would you rather have the equivalent Porsche 911 Turbo of the time? Let us know in the comments down below. And if you spot any other cars in the background at Girardo & Co that you would like to see more of, then put in a request and we’ll see what we can do! Thank you, as ever, so much for watching.

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Hagerty Video Transcript

– Towards the end of the 80s I think you were either a digital person, or an analogue person when it came to supercars. The battle between the Porsche 959 and Ferrari’s F40 raged in all the magazines. I, like suspect a lot of other people, was a Ferrari person. Analogue won out. With multiple computers, active this, active that, power going to all four wheels and most cars being in comfort spec,

It felt like the 959 was impressive, but a bit aloof, next to the raw F40. It was a Walter Rohrl versus Gilles Villeneuve sort of deal. But this 959 is, well, a bit different. This could be the answer to your analogue 959 dreams. In amongst the other wild and wonderful shapes for sale at Girardo & Co, this Porsche in its graphite metallic paint might be easy to overlook. But that would be a mistake. This is F9, an early prototype for the tech fest supercar, and that makes interesting, even more intriguing.

There were 29 prototypes of the 959 which seems like an extraordinary number given that it represents 10% of the overall final production run. And prototypes came in three different flavors. The N series, which are closest to those final production cars, they built 10 of those.

Then there were seven V series, the pre-production cars. And then there were 12 of the F series like this, F9. And these are the really interesting ones because they have all the bodges, the handmade parts, the quirks that really tell a story. This particular car did transmission testing everywhere

From Sweden, to Nardo, to Algeria. It’s also the first prototype for the lighter, more hardcore sport variants of the 959. Compared to production cars there are obvious anomalies, like the turned down tailpipes in place of the oval tips of the production car. However, the lack of headlight washers

And the rather handmade windscreen washer solution, to satisfy regulations, are more subtle. As is the slightly different rear wing. The fuel filler cap is, fake. There are no wheel arch liners and if you look in the engine bay then you will see rather more than you might expect.

Those intercoolers would normally be hidden. Then there are the signs of its testing life, like the markers on the arches and the white magnesium wheels. Placed there to help with measurements. If you got into this car blindfolded and you were told it was a 959, and you knew your 959s, you would know that this was a prototype. Why? Well, the steering, because, well, for a long time in the development of the 959, this was going to have unassisted steering.

Eventually they gave it assistance, but this car, it’s still unassisted. And you really know it. Sometimes with unassisted cars it’s heavy, at sort of parking speeds and slow speeds but, this is quite a workout all the time, to be honest. You’ve got feel, but you just sort of get the sense

That actually you don’t wanna be adding a lot of lock quickly. Being an early prototype means that this car also lacks ABS and because it’s a sport variant, it also does without the electronically adjustable suspension of the production cars, despite the fact there’s a light on the dashboard.

But then not everything is as it seems inside. The HVAC controls don’t work. The seats would be cloth in the final production versions of the sport variants. And, the steering wheel also lacks the 959 script that would be present on production cars. Presumably put there just to remind customers

That they weren’t in fact sitting in a more ordinary rear engine Porsche. When you sit in here for the first time, well, it’s very much like a 911 of the era. Just as somebody who wasn’t really in the know, might think from the outside that this was just a particularly aero

Slightly melted 911. In here, it’s also all very familiar. You look across and at first glance, these five dials here, but then you look a little closer. You notice a water temperature gauge because although the block is still air cooled, this unlike a 911 at the time, has water cooled heads.

The reason the heads needed the water cooling was because its four valves per cylinder didn’t dissipate the heat as well, particularly on the exhaust side with turbos involved. The whole engine bears more than a passing resemblance in fact, to those found in the back of the 956 and 962 Group C race cars.

But, what might initially seem odd is the displacement. Which at 2,849 CC, is rather less than the 3.3 liters of the contemporary 911 Turbo. But if you multiply 2.84 by 1.4, because this car is turbocharged, you get to just under four liters, meaning it stacks up for those Group B homologation regulations.

The turbocharging in this is fascinating because it’s sequentially turbo-charged. So rather than both the turbos coming on together, to start with the left bank fills its lungs the exhaust gases are all channeled towards that one. And then, when there are enough to exhaust gases to spool up the second one, that kicks in,

And you really can feel it. It’s one of the most distinctive things about the 959. It’s an interesting contrast to the F40 which has that one big boom of slightly terrifying boost from both turbos. The Porsche system has been superseded by things like variable turbine geometry, but that almost makes it an even more interesting curio. It doesn’t eliminate lag, but, you do get this amazing sense

Of the second turbocharger coming in. You come down here and just over 4,000 and There we go. There’s the rush. Wow, and it really is quick. So because this is a sport, potentially the sport, potentially the prototype sport, it gets a more powerful engine. So originally, the 959 was gonna have about 400 brake horsepower, but because the development was so long actually the comfort spec cars

Were 450 brake horsepower and then cars like this, a sport car, were up to 508 brake horsepower. And this might just be the fastest one of them all, because, where normal sports were already about 100 kilos lighter, about 1350 kilos. It’s reckoned that this one is potentially another 100 kilos lighter than that

Because it does without things like the roll cage that came with standard in sports. 500 brake horsepower, 1250 kilos, that’s enough. Even a standard 959 was capable of 0 to 60 miles an hour in just 3.6 seconds, and 0 to 100 miles an hour in just 8.2 seconds.

Figures achieved by dialing in 7,000 RPM and simply sidestepping the clutch, not what we’re going to try that today, because as robust as it feels, it is worth in the region of two million pounds. Of course, some things on this prototype are just as you’d expect to find them

On a regular production line 959, but that doesn’t make them any less fascinating. The gearbox is interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, it wasn’t gonna be a manual originally, understandably because in this tech fest of car you’d expect to see something like APDK,

Which would’ve been amazing had they done it. About 20 years ahead of the first road car to get one otherwise which was the Audi TT. But, we have a manual. But that’s interesting too because we have the little G there which is really a first gear, but it means gelande, which is terrain.

And this box kind of encapsulates the breadth of ability or breadth of intention of this car, because that gelande crawler sort of gear only took you up to about 35 miles an hour. Whereas fifth gear, sixth gear really, took you all the way to 197 miles an hour

Making this the fastest production car in the world when the 959 was launched. And it again encapsulates the breadth of ability of competition of this car because it won Dakar in 1986. And in the same year, it also competed under the guise of the 961 at Le Mans,

Being the first car that wasn’t a Group C car to finish. It might have arrived too late for the Group B regs that had in mind, but the fact it tackled both the Sahara and La Sarthe is brilliant. The gearbox isn’t the only example of the 959’s wide remit either.

The other thing we have to talk about with this, is the PSK, Porsche-Steuer Kupplung. Don’t ask me to say that again please. That’s the name for the all-wheel drive system in this. And it is fascinating, it’s so clever. You can see on this right-hand dial here, how the torque is being distributed

Both fore and aft and then across the back axle with the diff. We’ve also got various lights here. So we’ve got a dry setting, a wet setting, snow and ice, and then you could fully lock the center diff as well. What Porsche wanted was a car that,

Well, essentially didn’t feel like an Audi Quattro. They wanted it still to feel nimble not just sort of being led from the front the whole time. When it was being developed, they thought of all sorts of crazy things like a pedal that your left foot would operate

To decouple the drive from the front axle. They also thought about automatically decoupling the front anti-roll bars and things like that. In the end, they came up with a very clever system that apportions the torque across the two axles and it’s based on weight distribution. So the weight distribution in this car static

Is about 40/60 front rear. So that’s, you know, the baseline for the torque distribution across the all-wheel drive. Then it takes the sensors, both throttle, the turbos and then the wheel speed sensors as well, to calculate the changes in weight distribution. Just to be clear, it’s not measuring the weight distribution in real time with some sort of potentiometer, it’s actually calculating it from the inputs. So as we come up to this corner here and then when we get onto the throttle obviously the weight shifts towards the rear,

And as much as 80% of the drive out of the corner could then be shifted to the rear axle. And you can see that on the little needle there. It’s fascinating. Through the tighter corners you really noticed that unassisted steering, but through the quicker corners, through this long right-hander up here,

Love the feel of the balance. You really feel that four-wheel drive system working and when that turbo kicks in sort of the mid corner, You feel it sort of drag you through the corner and out the other side. Maybe the rear just squatting just sort of squaring it up towards the exit. No adjustable suspension in this car and it does noticeably stay flatter there’s not as much pitch and roll in this. Really grips. Even though this doesn’t have the adjustable suspension, Porsche did still put in different mounting points so you could raise the ride height in competition.

And, of course, this has double wishbones at the front. Not that new, is it? 992 GT3. The tyres are novel too because this was the first car to use a system called Denlock, that was a type of run flat. In fact, it pressurized the whole wheel, which meant that the TPMS or tyre pressure monitoring system, another 959 first, could also alert you

If one of the lightweight hollow spokes became cracked. It’s when you start adding up all these innovations that you start to understand why the 959 took so long to develop, and why it was so expensive to buy. About 420,000 deutschemark or 100,000 pounds at the time.

In fact, it should have been even more expensive because it’s estimated that each car cost Porsche about three times what they sold them for. And that explains why a prototype like this, was sold to help recoup some of the costs. In fact, it was sold along with prototype F7

To Porsche dealer Vasek Polak in America, but, without the keys, because it wasn’t homologated for the US. Which brings us to Bill Gates. You see, Porsche did want to sell the 959 in America but it didn’t want to crash four cars to meet the regulations. So they came up with a plan.

29 sports were going to be sold as race cars, so they shipped them all across. But the Environmental Protection Agency saw straight through that plan and said, no, no, no, no, no, no. Take them all back to Europe. Porsche regrouped and said well we can sell them on an individual basis

But it’s up to you, you can’t take these to America. A couple of people did. And the authorities still said, no, no, you can’t bring them in. They’ve gotta stay in the docks. But two of those people were Bruce Canepa and Bill Gates. Quite influential people.

And after 13 years, they managed to get a rule change. That’s now known as the show or display rule, which has seen all sorts of wonderful metal arrive in the United States. All thanks to, well, the 959, sort of. As far as Porsche was concerned,

The 959’s legacy was in technology like the TPMS, the active suspension and the aero that found its way into future, more affordable models. And this special car, F9, is one of the cars that helped lay the foundation for that future. Is technology trickle down a seductive story for a supercar? Perhaps not. Is an F40 still more fun to drive? Yes, but the more I dug into the history of the 959 for this film, the more I really admired it. As such, while I thought I’d like F9 purely for its more analogue nature,

I actually ended up liking it just as much for the special part it plays, in the incredible story of this incredible Porsche.